Fish Out of Water

Musings and observations about life from an East Coast native now living on the Left Coast in the California State Capitol since 2004. This fish has made her home in Madison, WI (7 years); Portland, OR (2 years); Las Vegas, NV (7 months); Middlebury, VT (3 summers); Marne-la-Vallee, a small town east of Paris, France (6 months); Middletown, CT (3 years); and Marshfield, MA, the fish's coastal hometown 40 miles south of Boston (17 years).

Location: Sacramento, California, United States


Thanksgiving in Provence

We spent last week in Cadenet, France, a little village in Provence about halfway between Marseille and Avignon.

So... what does "Provence" conjure up for you? Sun? Wine? Lavender? Pastis? Lazy afternoons and boule-playing in the town square? Well, perhaps. But read on to find out what Provence meant for us during this trip...

Day 1 - Fri. 11/18 & Sat. 11/19 (Sacramento -> Chicago -> Munich -> Marseille -> Cadenet)
Due to poor scheduling on the part of United/Lufthansa, we missed our connecting flight in Munich (note to self: 40 minutes to transfer when you have to pass through passport control and security is just NOT sufficient...), but the pleasant Lufthansa lady gave us a voucher for 20 euros so we could buy lunch, which was quite nice. I called the caretaker of our rental house in Cadenet to let her know we'd be late and that the "non-French-speaking" members of our group (E's sister L and brother-in-law M) would be arriving beforehand to get the key.

We got to the Marseille airport in late afternoon, found our way to the Thrifty (aka "ADA") car rental kiosk, got our stick-shift diesel Peugeot, and were on our way. The directions were just groovy up until we hit the town of Pertuis, and then we took a bit more of a scenic tour than we had intended... But we eventually got back on track and managed to find La Villa Merle in Cadenet by about 6pm. Unfortunately, I had caught a cold on the plane, so after chatting with L & M and having a snack, I went to bed @ 8pm while E, L, & M went to a local pizza place for dinner.

Day 2 - Sun. 11/20 (Cadenet)
Up for a 5-mile run around the village today. Lots of hills and twists and turns, but it helped to get a bit oriented to our new home base for the week. E & I visited La Presse for some postcards, the boulangerie for some bread, and the petit Casino market for a few other breakfast necessities, and then we all piled into our car to try to find an open supermarket (otherwise known as an hypermarket). Another note to self: large French supermarkets are closed on Sundays... We actually traveled all the way to Aix-en-Provence (about 25 minutes away) to discover this cultural anomaly. Luckily, we found a great local place in Villelaure, on the way from Pertuis to Cadenet, that's open non-stop every day, so we purchased some foodstocks there (veges, sausage, olive oil, balsamic, lemon marmalade, anise cookies, wine) and returned home.

Taking advantage of the sunny weather in the afternoon, both couples headed out to explore. E & I decided to head up and discovered a footpath to the old chateau that towers over the village. We climbed in, on, and around the remains, and the route we took home mimicked part of my earlier running route and also lead past a public obstacle course that we vowed to complete later in the week (never got to this...).

Day 3 - Mon. 11/21 (Nimes, Arles)
Another 5-mile run along a different route today. The weekly Cadenet farmer's market was chilly and damp but fun this morning as we stocked up on a small roast chicken, cheese (morbier and raclette), some veges & fruit, olive bread, and a fab Provencal-style tablecloth to take home. We also got some pretty two-toned roses for L since it was her birthday.

After breakfast, E & I didn't quite get onto the route I had planned for Nimes, so we ended up skirting around Avignon and took a bit longer, but eventually we found the appropriate roads and parking right near the Roman arena. We toured the arena and got some great photos - a bit strange to see the old remains in contrast with the newer seating and scaffolding, since the venue is now used for concerts, spectacles, and bullfights. Then we headed to the Maison Carree, the Quai, and the Jardin de la Fontaine with its Temple de Diane. On the way back to the car, we stumbled upon a wine shop and purchased some very yummy bottles of local red wine from the Languedoc region (each was just under 10 euros - what a deal!).

The next stop was Arles, where we followed a walking path to the Alyscamps but decided not to pay the admission price just to see lots of old tombs. From there, we wended our way up to a church whose terrace provided a great panoramic view and was just across the street from the old Roman amphitheatre. No need to see another arena from the inside, we decided, so instead we trekked to the Roman theatre nearby and paid to tour the inside. For me, this was quite striking, with my abiding interest in theatre history and theatre in general. It's hard to imagine what it would have looked like when it was still whole, but the structure must have been immense and impressive. Back home to Cadenet for dinner with L & M and bed.

Day 4 - Tues. 11/22 (Gigondas, Chateauneuf-du-Pape)
All four of us tumbled into our car for the day's road trip. The first stop was Gigondas, where we managed to find the main little town square and the Caveau (tasting room for over 40 local vineyards) about 30 minutes before everything shut down for lunch. E & I purchased 1 bottle and 1 magnum of Gigondas offerings.

Off to Chateauneuf-du-Pape for L's birthday lunch at La Mere Germaine. The lunch was looooong, in the typical French tradition, but tasty (aside from a little garlic incident...). Then we stopped at a nearby Cave, where M & L made a purchase, and headed up the hill to the remains of the Chateau des Papes. The Verger des Papes was along the route, so we tasted several wines there on the way down and chatted with the winemaker who just happened to have lived in Chicago for awhile. Quel coincidence! M & L decided to purchase a case to be shipped to Oak Park, but E & I were more conservative and left with just 2 bottles to age for awhile.

Day 5 - Weds. 11/23 (Cadenet)
I managed to get in a 7-mile run this morning, up and down and around. I discovered the "yuppie enclave" of Cadenet as well as another one of the public obstacle courses, not to mention the little track and tennis courts.

E & I had decided to make this our "stay-at-home" day, so we did some laundry, went to Pertuis to finally hit the Hyper U supermarket, and then enjoyed the snow (!) as we snuggled in the warm house and read all day. We had a pre-Thanksgiving dinner "a la Provencal" with turkey filets and a zucchini tart that I made from a recipe in the book we had received when we rented the house.

Day 6 - Thurs. 11/24 (Aix-en-Provence)
A final 4-mile run before we headed to the Aix TGV station to fetch our Madisonian friend, P, who's working in Paris for a year. Cold, damp, chilly. But we made the best of it and did a walking tour of Aix, enjoying the older part especially, with the windy streets. We had a great lunch in a tiny restaurant (nice tiled bathroom with a real toilet - yay!). Oh - and we bumped into M & L in the Aix Tourism Office at the start of the day - small world!

Back home to Cadenet in the afternoon. P & E went out for a beer, but I stayed home to read and rest (that cold just wouldn't go away - I hate being sick on vacation). M & L returned by dinner time, so we had a makeshift feast in the living room with chicken, cheese, bread, cold meats, sauteed veges, and of course some cookies for dessert. A lovely if untraditional way to spend Thanksgiving abroad.

Day 7 - Fri. 11/25 (Marseille, Castellet, Bandol)
P, E, & I headed out to Marseille in the morning to walk around a bit and find a non-tourist-trap site for lunch since P & E wanted to try some of the traditional bouillebaisse. We dined at Au Sanglier, where we were the only patrons and had a wonderful view of the harbor and Notre Dame de la Garde high on the hill.

Then we navigated to Castellet to find Domaine Tempier (I had read about this winery in an issue of France magazine), where the woman was wonderfully gracious, welcoming, and informative. Ironically, we discovered that Domaine Tempier exports almost all of their wines to the US through a distributor in Berkeley, CA, so we'll likely be able to find them somewhere around here if we ever want to buy more (we left with 1 bottle of the 2003).

Next we drove a bit farther south to Bandol, right on the coast. This would be a great place to return in the warmer weather... We tasted at two Caveau and purchased 1 magnum at the first (not to be opened before 2013) and 1 bottle at the second. Home to Cadenet for a final dinner of leftovers.

Day 8 - Sat. 11/26 (Cadenet -> Marseille -> Frankfurt -> Denver -> Sacramento)
We dropped P off at the Aix TGV station on our way to the airport, returned the rental car, and settled in for a loooong day of flying. The second two flights were packed, but all were on time, the luggage arrived with us, and we didn't have any trouble carrying back the 2 magnums and 4 bottles of wine. Home to Miss Muffin by 8pm, unpacked and in bed by 9pm. Ahh...

Overall, a lovely trip, despite the cold weather and the cold I caught on the plane. When do we go back??!!

(check out some of our photos under France)


Anonymous Anonymous said...


Meeow! What a lovely time, especially together! I can only say, patience, and we will see what we can do (in a springtime sort of way).

Je T'aime!


2:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Man... what a trip. I wish I were there with you, but instead I was with family. Sleeping in. Seeing cousins. Hanging out. Someone else to cook (mum's cooking just get better the longer I'm away). Back home to friends that couldn't wait to fill me in on a week on wacky and all that I had missed. Even got the suprise treat of a "beer-a-mid" (stack of beer and other cans) in front of my bedroom door as a welcome home treat. We laughed, had a scotch and called it an early night. Fun was had by all. I send hugs and hopes to see you soon. Be well.


9:10 PM  

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